But Louis Charles took no satisfaction, and it made no impression on him, when Desaix informed him that he was the possessor of a million. "A million! What shall I do with it?" answered Louis, sadly. "Were it a million soldiers, and I might put myself at their head and with them storm the Tuileries and make my entrance into St. Cloud, I should consider myself fortunate. But what advantage to me are a million of francs? I can begin nothing with them; I should have to establish a store and perhaps have the custom of the First Consul of the republic!"
"Hush! young man, hush!" replied Desaix, "you are bitter and sad, and I understand it, for the horizon is dark for you, and offers you no cheerful prospect; but a million francs is a good thing notwithstanding, and one day you will know how to prize it. This million of francs makes you a rich man, and a rich man is a free and independent man. If you do not wish to live longer as a soldier, you have the power to give up your commission and live without care, and that is something. My next business will be to assure you your fortune against all the uncertainties of the future, which are the more to be guarded against, as we are soon to advance into Italy again for the next campaign. I can, therefore, not put your property and your papers into your hands, for they constitute your future, and we must deposit them with some one with whom they shall be safe, and that must be with a man of peace. Do you know who this man is?"
"I know no one, general, excepting yourself," replied Louis, with a shrug, "whom I should dare to trust."
"But, fortunately, I know an entirely reliable man; shall I tell you who he is?"
"Do so, I beg you, general."
"His name is Fouche."
Louis started, and a deathly paleness covered his cheeks.
"Fouche, the chief of police! Fouche, the traitor, who gave his voice in the Convention for the death of King Louis—to him, the red republican, a man of blood and treachery, do you want to convey my papers and my property?"
"Yes, Louis, for with him alone are they secure. Fouche will protect you, and will stand by you with just as much zeal as he once displayed in the persecution of the royal family. I know him well, and I vouch for him. Men must not always be judged by their external appearance. He who shows himself our enemy to-day, lends us to- morrow, it may be, a helpful arm, and becomes our friend, sometimes because his heart has been changed, and sometimes because his character is feeble. I cannot with certainty say which of these reasons has determined Fouche, but I am firmly convinced that he will be a protector and a friend to you, and that in no hands will your property and your papers be safer than in his." [Footnote: Desaix's own words—See "Memoires du Due de Nonuandie," p. 61.]
Louis made no reply; he dropped his head with a sigh, and submitted.
On, in the new century, rolled the victorious car of Bonaparte, down the Alps, into the fertile plains of Italy. The conqueror of Lodi and Arcole meant to take revenge on the enemies who had snatched back the booty—revenge on Austria, who had broken the peace of Campo Formio. And he did take this revenge at Marengo, where, on the 14th of June, he gained a brilliant victory over Austria, and won all Italy as the prize of the battle.
But the day was purchased at a sacrifice. General Desaix paid with his death for his impetuous onset. In the very thick of the fight, mortally wounded by a ball, he fell into the arms of his adjutant Louis, and only with extreme peril could the latter, himself wounded, bear the general away from the melee, and not. be trampled to death by the horses of his own soldiers.
Poor Louis Charles! He now stood entirely alone—the last friend had left him. Death had taken away every thing, parents, crown, home, name, friends. He was alone, all alone in the world—no man to take any interest in him, no one to know who he was.
Sunk in sadness, he remained in Alessandria after the battle of Marengo, and allowed his external wound to heal, while the internal one continued to bleed. He cursed death, because it had not taken him, while removing his last friend.
And when the wound was healed, what should he do?—under what name and title should he be enrolled in the army? His only protector was dead, and the adjutant was reported to have died with him. He put off the uniform which he had worn as the soldier of the republic which had destroyed his throne and his inheritance, and, in simple, unpretending garments, he returned to Paris, an unknown young man.
Desaix was right; it was, indeed, something to possess a million of francs. Poor as he was in love and happiness, this million of francs made him at least a free and independent man, and therefore he would demand his inheritance of him whom he formerly shunned because he was one of the murderers of his father.
Fouche received the young man exactly as Desaix had expected. He showed himself in the light of a sympathizing protector; he was touched with the view of this youth, whose countenance was the evidence of his lineage, the living picture of the unfortunate Louis XVI., whom Fouche had brought to the scaffold. Perhaps this man of blood and the guillotine had compunctions of conscience; perhaps he wanted to atone to the son for his injuries to the parents; perhaps he was planning to make of the son of the Bourbons a check to the ambitious consul of the republic; perhaps to humiliate the grasping Count de Lille, who was intriguing at all the European courts for the purpose of raising armies against the French republic. The son of Louis XVI. could be employed as a useful foil to all these political manoeuvres, and subsequently he could either be publicly acknowledged, or denounced as an impostor, as circumstances might determine.
At present it suited the plans of the crafty Fouche to acknowledge him, and to assume the attitude of a protector. He put on a very respectful and sympathetic air to the poor solitary youth; with gentle, tremulous voice he called him your Majesty; he begged his pardon for the past; he spoke with such deep emotion and so solemn a tone of the good, great, and gentle Louis XVI., that the heart of the son was powerfully touched. And when Fouche, with flaming words of enthusiasm, began to speak of the noble, unhappy Queen Marie Antoinette, when with glowing eloquence he celebrated her beauty and her gentleness in time of good-fortune, her greatness and steadfastness in ill-fortune, all the anger of the young man melted in the tears of love which he poured out as he remembered his mother.
"I forgive you, Fouche; yes, I forgive you," he cried, extending both his hands. "I see plainly the power of political faction hurried you away; but your heart cannot be bad, for you love my noble mother. I forgive you, and I trust you."
Fouche, deeply moved, sank upon his knee before the dauphin, and called himself one of his loyal subjects, and promised to take all means to restore the young king to the throne of his fathers. He conjured Louis to trust him, and to enter upon no plan without asking his counsel.
Louis promised this. He told Fouche that he was the only man who had talked with him about the past without using ambiguous language; that he was surprised at this, and compelled to recognize as true what formerly had been fettered on his tongue. He told him that he had promised his rescuer, with a solemn oath, never to acknowledge himself as the son of Louis XVI., and King of France, till this rescuer and benefactor empowered him to do so, and released him from his vow of silence. He made it, therefore, the first condition of his confidence that Fouche should disclose his secret to no one, but carry it faithfully in his own breast.
Fouche promised all, and took a sacred oath that he would never reveal the secret confided to him by the King of France. But he confessed at the same time that the First Consul knew very well that the son of the king had been released from the Temple, and that among the posthumous papers of Kleber there was a letter directed to Bonaparte, stating that he, Kleber, knew very well that the little Capet was still living, and imploring Bonaparte to restore the orphan to the throne of the Lilies. The consul had, therefore, quietly, made investigations, and learned that Louis had taken part as the adjutant of General Desaix in the battle of Marengo, that he had been wounded there, and remained in the hospital of Alessandria till his recovery. Since then all trace of the young man had been lost, and he had commissioned Fouche to discover the adjutant of Kleber and Desaix and bring him to him.
"You will not do that?" cried Louis, eagerly; "you will not disclose me?"
"Are you afraid of him?" asked Fouche, with a suspicious smile.
The young man blushed, and a cloud passed over his clear forehead.
"Fear!" he replied with a shrug. "The sons of my ancestors have no fear; and I have shown on the battle-fields of Aboukir and Marongo, and in the pest-houses of Jaffa, that I know not the word. But when one meets a blood-thirsty lion in his path he turns out of the way, and when a tiger extends its talons at one he flies; that is the duty of self-preservation, and not the flight of a coward."
"Do you believe, then, that this lion thirsts for royal blood?"
"I believe that he thirsts for royal rank, and that he will neglect no means to vanquish all hinderances that might intervene between himself and the throne. Do you believe, sir, that the man who, after the battle of Aboukir, sentenced five thousand prisoners to death, would hesitate a moment to take the life of a poor, defenceless young man such as I am? He would beat me into the dust as the lion does the flea which dares to play with his mane."
"It appears you know this aon very well," said Fouche with a smile, "and I really believe you judge him rightly. But be without concern. He shall not know from me that I am aware of you and your abiding- place. In order that Bonaparte shall not take me to be a bad detective, I shall show him in all other things that I am on the alert. In case of necessity, it may be that I shall have to resort to deception, and, in order to save your life, inform the consul that you are dead. There were a great many young officers who fell at Marengo, or afterward died as the result of their wounds. Why should not the adjutant of General Desaix have met this fate? Yes, I believe this will be the best. I will give you out as dead, in order to save your life. I will cause a paper to be prepared which shall testify that the adjutant of General Desaix, who lay there in the hospital, died there of his wounds and was buried."
"And so I shall disappear from life a second time?" asked Louis, sadly.
"Yes, sire, in order to enter anew upon it with greater splendor," replied Fouche, eagerly.
"Who knows whether this shall ever be?" sighed Louis. "How shall I be able to establish my identity if I die and am buried twice? Who will be my pledge that I shall be able to convince men that I am not a deceiver, and that my whole existence is not an idle tale? There are only a few who know and believe that little Capet escaped from the Temple, and went to Egypt as Kleber's adjutant. If, now, these few learn that the adjutant fell in battle, if the paper that testifies to his death is laid before them, how shall I subsequently be believed if I announce that I am alive, and that I am the one for whom I give myself out? The seal of royalty is impressed on no man's brow, and we know from history that there have been false pretenders."
"You shall show with your papers that you are none such," said Fouche, eagerly, "and God will grant that I, too, shall be living when the time shall be in which you may come forward with raised voice and demand your inheritance and your throne. Hope for that time, and meanwhile preserve your papers well. Carry them always with you, part with them neither day nor night, for in these papers rest your future and your c rown. No other man besides yourself can take care of them These papers are worth more to you than a million of fras, although oven that should not be scorned. Here are the documents that give you possession of your wealth. I have deposited your funds in the Bank of France, and you can draw out money at any time by presenting these checks that I give you, simply writing your name upon them."
"By simply writing my name upon them!" cried Louis, bitterly. "But, sir, what is my name? How shall I be called? I was formerly designated as the nephew of Kleber, Colonel Louis, the adjutant of Desaix. But Colonel Louis can no longer acknowledge that he is alive, and you propose to convince the First Consul that the nephew of Kleber is dead. Who, then, am I? What name shall I subscribe to those papers? By what name shall the nameless, the dead and buried, the resurrected, the again dead and buried one—by what name shall he draw money from the bank?"
"Very true," said Fouche. "A name, or rather the mask of a citizen's or nobleman's name, must be your disguise, and it is imperatively necessary that we give you such, and provide you with papers that cannot be forged, which shall prove your existence, and secure you against every assault."
"Very good; then tell me how I shall be called," said Louis, sadly. "Be the godfather of the solitary and nameless."
"Well, I will," cried Fouche. "In the glamour of political passions I have raised my voice against the life of your father; full of regret I will raise my voice for the life of the son, and assist him to enter afresh upon life and into the society of men. Young man, I will give you a name and rank, till the French nation restore to you your true name and rank. You shall henceforth be called the Baron de Richemont. Will you accept it?"
"Yes, I will accept it," said Louis, gently. "To be the Baron de Richemont is better than to be a dead and buried person without any name."
"Very good, my lord baron," cried Fouche, "I will have the necessary certificates and papers made out, and enter your property in the Bank of France under the name of the Baron de Richemont. If you please, come to-morrow to me, and I will deliver to you the papers of Monsieur de Richemont."
"I shall come, be sure of that," said Louis, giving him his hand; "it seems to me my fate to go incognito through life, and God alone knows whether I shall ever abandon this incognito."
He saluted Fouche with a sad smile, and went out. The minister listened to the resounding footstep, and then broke out into loud, mocking laughter.
"Foolish boy!" he said, raising his hand threateningly, "foolish boy! You suppose that only God knows whether you will ever come out of your incognito. You mistake—besides God, Fouche knows it. Yes, Fouche knows that this incognito extends over you like a net, from which you never will escape. No, the Baron de Richemont shall never be transformed into King Louis XVII. But he shall be an instrument with which I will hold in check this ambitious Consul Bonaparte, who is striving; for the throne, and this grasping Count de Lille, who in his exile calls himself King Louis XVIII.—the instrument with which I threaten when I am threatened. Only, my little Baron de Richemont, I do not know what I can make out of you, but I know that you shall make out of me a rich, dangerous, and dreaded man. Poor, credulous fool! How easily you fall into the piti The Baron de Richemont shall never escape from it. I vouch for it—I, Fouche!"
The First Consul was walking with hasty steps up and down his cabinet. His eyes flashed, and his face, which elsewhere was impenetrable, like that of the brazen statues of the Roman emperors, disclosed the fiery impatience and stormy passions which raged within him. His lips, which were pressed closely together, opened now and then to mutter a word of threatening or of anger, and that word he hurled like a poisoned arrow directly at the man who, in a respectful attitude and with pallid cheeks, stood not far from the door, near the table covered with papers.—This man was Fouche, formerly the chief of police in Paris, and now a mere member of the senate of the republic. He had gone to the Tuileries in order to request a secret audience of Bonaparte, who had now forgotten the little prefix of "First" to his consular title, and now reigned supreme and alone over France.
Bonaparte suddenly paused in his rapid walk, coming to a halt directly in front of Fouche, and looked at him with flaming eyes, as if they were two daggers with which he meant to pierce deep into his heart. But Fouche did not see this, for he stood with downcast eyes, and appeared not to be aware that Bonaparte was so near him.
"Fouche," cried the consul, violently, "I know you, and I am not to be deceived by your indifferent, affected air! You shall know that I do not fear you—you and all the ghosts that you can conjure up. You think that you frighten me; you wish that I should pay you dearly for your secret. But you shall know that I am not at all of a timorous nature, and that I shall pay no money for the solution of a riddle which I may perhaps be able to solve without your help. I warn you, sir, you secret-vender, be well on your guard! You have your spies, but I have my police, and they inform me about every thing out of the usual course. It is known, sir, that you are carrying on a correspondence with people out of the country— understand me, with people out of the country!"
"Consul," replied Fouche, calmly, "I have certainly not known that the republic forbids its faithful servants to send letters abroad."
"The republic will never allow one of its servants to correspond with its enemies," cried Bonaparte, in thundering tones. "Be silent, sir! no evasions, no circumlocutions! Let us speak plainly, and to the point. You are in correspondence with the Count de Lille."
"You know that, consul, for I have had the honor to give you a letter myself, which the pretender directed to you, and sent to me to be delivered."
"A ridiculous, nonsensical letter," replied Bonaparte, with a shrug; "a letter in which this fool demands of me to bring him back to France, and to indicate the place which I wish to occupy in his government. By my word, an idiot could not write a more crazy document! I am to indicate the place which I wish to occupy in his government! Well, I shall do that; but there will be no place left near me for the Bourbons, whom France has spewed out, as one spews out mortal poison. These hated and weak Bourbons shall never attain to power and prestige again. Prance has turned away from them. France abhors this degenerate race of kings; it will erect a new edifice of power and glory, but there will be no room in it for the Bourbons! Mark that, intriguer, and build no air-castles on it. I demand of you an open confession, for I shall accuse yon as a traitor and a royalist."
"Consul, I shall not avoid this charge," replied Fouche, calmly, "and I am persuaded that Prance will follow with interest the course of a trial which will unveil an important secret—which will inform it that the rightful King of France, according to the opinion of Consul Bonaparte, did not die in the Temple under the tender care of Simon the cobbler, but is still alive, and is, therefore, the true heir of the crown. That would occasion some joy to the royalists, surely!"
The consul stamped on the floor with rage, his eyes shot flames, and when he spoke again, his voice rang like peals of thunder, so angrily and so powerfully did it pour forth.
"I will change the paecans and the joy of these royalists to lamentations and wailings," he cried. "All the enemies of France shall know that I hold the sword in my hands, and mean to use it, not only against foes without, but foes within. France has given me this sword, and I shall not lay it down, even if all the kings of Europe, and all the Bourbons who lie in the vaults of St. Denis, leave their graves, to demand it from me! I am the living sword of France, and never shall this sword bow before the sceptre of a Bourbon. Fresh shoots might sooner spring from the dead stick which the wanderer carries through the desert, than a Bourbon sceptre could grow from the sword of Bonaparte; and all the same, whether this Bourbon calls himself Louis XVII. or Louis XVIII.! Mark that, Fouche, and mark also that when I once say 'I will,' I shall know how to make my will good, even if the whole world ventures to confront me."
"I know that, consul," said Fouche, with deference. "God gave you, for the weal of France, an iron will and a brain of fire, and destined you to wear not only laurels, but crowns."
A flame glared from the eyes of the consul and played over the face of Fouche, but the latter appeared not to notice it, for he cast down his eyes again, and his manner was easy and unconstrained.
"You now speak a word which is not becoming," said Bonaparte, calmly. "I am the first servant of the republic, and in a republic there are no crowns."
"Not citizens' crowns, general?" asked Fouche, with a faint smile. "I mean, that this noblest of crowns can everywhere be acceptable, and no head has merited such a crown more than the noble Consul Bonaparte, who has made the republic of France a worthy rival of its sister in North America."
Bonaparte threw his head proudly back. "I am not ambitious of the honor," he said, "of being Washington of France."
"Yet you are he, general," replied Fouche, with a smile. "Only the Washington of France does not live in the White House which a republic has built, but in the Tuileries, which he has received as the heir of the French kings. General, as the worthiest, the greatest, the most powerful, and the most signally called, you have come into the possession of the inheritance of the kings of France. For to this inheritance belongs also the crown of France. Why do you refuse this, while accepting all the rest?"
"And what if I show you that I do not want it?" asked Bonaparte. "And what if I should tell you that I do not feel myself worthy to assume the whole, undivided inheritance of the Bourbons? Would you be foolish and senseless enough to believe such an idle tale?"
"Consul, you have already done so many things that are wonderful, and have brought so many magic charms to reality, that I no longer hold any thing to be impossible, as soon as you have laid your hand upon it."
"And therefore you hold a concealed magician's wand, which you propose to draw forth at some decisive moment, and present to me, as the cross is presented to Beelzebub in the tale?"
"I do not understand you, consul," replied Fouche, with the most innocent air in the world.
"Well, then, I will make myself intelligible. The magician's wand, which you are keeping concealed, is called Louis XVII. Oh! do not shake your cunning head; do not deny with your smooth lips, which once uttered the death-sentence of Louis XVI., and which now are used to teach a fool and a pretender that he is the son of the murdered king. Truly, it is ridiculous. The regicide wants to atone for his offence by hatching a fable, and making a king out of a manikin."
"General, no fable, and no manikin," cried Fouche, with a threatening voice. "The son of the unfortunate king is alive, and—"
"Ah!" interrupted Bonaparte, triumphantly, "so you confess at last, you reveal your great secret at length! I have driven the sly fox out of his hole and the hunt can now begin. It will be a hot chase, I promise you, and I shall not rest till I have drawn the skin over the ears of the fox, or—"
"Until he says his pater peccavi?" asked Fouche, with a gentle smile.
"Until he delivers to me the changeling whom he wants to use as his Deus ex machina," replied Bonaparte. "My dear sir, it helps you not at all to begin again this system of lies. Your anger has betrayed you, and I have succeeded in outwitting the fox. The so-called 'son of the king is alive;' that has escaped you, and you cannot take it back."
"No, it cannot be taken back," replied Fouche, with a sigh. "I have disclosed myself, or rather I have been outwitted. You are in all things a hero and a master, in cunning as much as in bravery and discretion. I bow before you as before a genius whom God Himself has sent upon the earth, to bring the chaotic world into order again; I bow before you as before my lord and master; and instead of opposing you, I will henceforth be content with being your instrument, provided that you will accept me as such."
"That is, Fouche, provided that I will fulfil your conditions," cried Bonaparte, with a shrug. "Very well name your conditions! Without circumlocution! What do you demand?"
"Consul, in order that we may understand one another, we must both be open and unreserved. Will you permit me to be free with you?"
"Certainly," replied Bonaparte, with a condescending nod.
"Consul, you have thrust me aside, you have no longer confidence in me. You have taken from me the post of minister of police, and given it to my enemy Regnier. That has given me pain, it has injured me; for it has branded me before all the world as a useless man, whom Bonaparte suspects. Your enemies have believed that my alienation from you would conduce to their advantage, and that out of the dismissed police prefect they might gain an enemy to Bonaparte. Conspirators of all kinds have come to me—emissaries of Count de Lille, deputies from the royalists in Vendee, as well as from the red republicans, by whom you, Bonaparte, are as much hated as by the royalists, for they will never forgive you for putting yourself at the head of the republic, and making yourself their master. All of these parties have made propositions to me, all of them want me to join them. I have lent my ear to them all, I have been informed of all their plans, and am at this hour the sworn ally of both the republicans and the royalists. Oh! I beg you," continued Fouche, as Bonaparte started up, and opened his lips to speak—"I beg you, general, hear me to the end, and do not interrupt me till I have told you all.—Yes, I have allied myself to three separate conspiracies, and have become zealous in them all. There is, first, that of the republicans, who hate you as a tyrant of the republic; there is, in the second place, the conspiracy of the royalists, who want to put the Count de Lille on the throne; and third, there is that of the genuine Capetists, who want to make the 'orphan of the Temple' Louis XVII. These three conspiracies have it as their first object to remove and destroy Consul Bonaparte. Yes, to reach this end the three have united, and made a mutual compromise. Whichever party succeeds in murdering you, is to come into power, and the others are to relinquish the field to it: and so if Bonaparte is killed by a republican dagger, the republic is to remain at present the recognized form of government; and if the ball of a royalist removes you, the republicans strike their banner, and grant that France shall determine, by a general ballot, "whether it shall be a republic or a kingdom."
"Well," asked Bonaparte, calmly, as Fouche closed, and cast an inquiring glance at the consul's face, which was, notwithstanding, entirely cold and impenetrable—" well, why do you stop? I did not interrupt you with a question. Go on!"
"I will, consul. I have made myself a member of these three conspiracies; for, in order to contend with the heads of Cerberus, one must have them all joined; and in order to be the conqueror in a great affair, one must know who all his enemies are, and what are all their plans. I know all the plans of the allies, and because I know them, it is within my power to bring discontent and enmity among them, using for this end the third conspiracy—that of the dependants of Louis XVII., the orphan of the Temple. Through sympathy with him, I have divided the party of royalists; I have withdrawn from the Count de Lille many of his important dependants, and even some of the chief conspirators, who came to Paris to contend for Louis XVIII., have recently in secret bent the knee to Louis XVII., and sworn fidelity to him."
"That is not true," cried Bonaparte, vehemently. "You are telling me nurses' stories, with which children may be frightened, but men not. There are no secret meetings in Paris!"
"General, if your minister of police, Regnier, has told you so, he only shows that he is no man to be at the head of the police, and knows nothing of the detective service. I tell you, general, there are secret societies in Paris, and I ought to know, for I am a member of four separate ones."
"Ah! sir," sneered Bonaparte, "you are out of your head! Before, you spoke of three conspiracies, and now they have grown to be four."
"I am speaking now of secret societies, consul, for not every secret society can be called a conspiracy. Before, when I was giving account of conspiracies, I mentioned three; now, when we speak of secret societies, I have to mention a fourth. But this does not deserve the name of a conspiracy, for its object is not murder and revolution, nor does it arm itself with daggers and pistols."
"I should be curious to know the name of your fourth society," cried Bonaparte, impatiently.
"I will satisfy your curiosity, general. This fourth secret society bears the name 'the Bonapartists,' or—allow me to approach you closer, that the walls of the old palace may not hear the word—or 'the Imperialists.' "
Bonaparte shrank back, and a glow of red passed for a moment over his cheeks. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean by that, general, what I have already said: your brow is made not to wear laurels alone, but a crown, and there is only one way to destroy the other three conspiracies—the way proposed by the fourth secret society. In order to make the efforts of the republicans and royalists ineffective, and to tread them under your feet, France needs an emperor."
"And do you want to make your manikin, Louis XVII., Emperor of France?"
"No, general," answered Fouche, solemnly—"no; I want to make Consul Bonaparte Emperor of the French!"
The consul trembled, and his eyes flashed through the apartment, the former cabinet of Louis XVI., as if he wanted to convince himself that no one had heard this dangerous word of the future. Then he slowly bent forward without meeting Fouche's looks, which were intently fixed upon him.
A pause ensued—a long, anxious pause. Then Bonaparte slowly raised his eye again, and now it was filled as with sunlight.
"Is your fourth secret society numerous?" he asked, with that magical smile which won all hearts.
"It comprises artists, poets, scholars, and above every thing else, officers and generals," replied Fouche. "It grows more numerous every day, and as fortunately I have only been deposed from my place of minister of police, but still remain a member of the senate of the republic, it has been my effort to gain over in the senate influential members for my secret society of imperialists. If my hopes are crowned with success, the secret society will soon become an open one, and the senate will apply to you with a public request to put an end to all these conspiracies and intrigues, to place yourself at the head of France, and accept the imperial crown which the senate offers you. But—"
"I comprehend your 'but,' Fouche," interrupted Bonaparte, eagerly. "You want to make your conditions. An imperial crown does not fall direct from heaven upon the head of a man; there must be hands there to take it, and it might happen that they would be crushed by the falling crown. They must be paid for their heroism, therefore. Let us suppose, then, that I give credence to all your stories, even that about the empire of the future—tell me, now, what you demand."
"General, if I show you and all France by facts that the country is rent by conspiracies, that the cancer of secret societies is eating into the very marrow of the land, and imperilling all its institutions, will you confess to me then that I am better adapted to be the head of the police than M. Regnier d'Angely, who insists and dares to say to you that there are no secret societies in France?"
"Prove to me by facts the existence of your conspiracies, and I will commission you to help me destroy this hydra's head. Give me the proofs, and you shall be head of police again."
Fouche bowed. "You shall have the proofs, general, to-day—at once, provided that we thoroughly understand each other. I am ambitious, general, and I have no wish to be driven back for a single day into nothingness, as I should be, if my enemies withdraw their confidence in me. Now I am, at least, a member of the senate; but if the senate is dissolved, and I should subsequently be deposed again from the head of the police, I should be nothing but Fouche—Fouche fallen out of favor. Voila tout!"
"No, not so," said Bonaparte, with a smile. "You will always be known as the murderer of the king; that is a fine title for a republican, is it not?"
"Ah, general, I see that you understand me," cried Fouche. "We are now talking about a name, a position, a title for me. Provided that here in the Tuileries a throne is reestablished, we must have a court again, men with orders, titles, and dignities."
"It is true," said Bonaparte, thoughtfully. "The world continues to revolve in the same circles of folly and vanity, and after making an effort to withdraw from them, it falls back again into the old ruts. Men are nothing but actors, and every one wants to adorn himself with glistening rags, in order to take the first part, and have his name go upon the poster of history. Well, how would you be called, Fouche, if the drama of an empire should really be brought forward upon the great stage of the world? "
"I should like the title of a prince or duke, sire." Bonaparte could scarcely suppress the smile of satisfaction that played over his face. It was the first time that he had ever been addressed as king or emperor, and this "sire" which Fouche dropped into the ear of Bonaparte like a sweet poison, flattered his senses and soothed him like delightful music. But the strength of his genius soon resumed its sway, and he broke out into a loud, merry laugh.
"Confess, Fouche," he cried, "that it is comical to hear the consul talking with a senator of the republic about an empire and ducal titles. Truly, if the strict republicans of your conspiracy number one should hear this, they would be justified in accusing us as traitors and conspirators."
"We must get the start of them—we must accuse them."
"If we possess secure means to do so."
"I possess them, and I will give them to you, Consul Bonaparte, as soon as the emperor of the future assures me of a princely title, in addition to the chieftaincy of police."
"Very well," said Bonaparte, laughing, "the emperor of the future promises you that as soon as he is able to bake a batch of these delicacies, he will put his chief of police in the oven and draw him out as a prince or a duke. The emperor of the future gives you his word of honor that he will do it. Are you satisfied now, my lord republican?"
"Sire, completely satisfied," said Fouche, bowing low.
"And now let us talk together seriously," said Bonaparte. "You have spoken of conspiracies; you assert that they exist, but do not forget that you have promised me tangible proofs—understand me well, tangible proofs; that is, it is not enough for me to see the papers and the lists of conspirators who have escaped into foreign lands—I want persons, men of flesh and blood—traitors whom I may hang, not in effigy, but in reality, and who may serve as a warning example to the whole herd of conspirators, and put an end forever to this nonsense. I am wearied of being perpetually threatened by traitors, poisoned daggers, air-guns, plots, and intrigues, of all kinds. It is time to hunt down the chief men of these bravoes who have been sent here from England, Germany, Russia, and Italy, and I have had enough of illustrating the old proverb, 'Hang the little thief and let the great one run.' I mean to have the great thief and to hang him, for that is the only way of intimidating these fellows and inspiring them with respect."
"Sire, you shall have your great thieves," said Fouche, with a smile.
"Give them into my hands, and I promise you they shall never escape," cried Bonaparte, eagerly. "It is high time to make an example, and show these people at last that I claim the right of paying back. The Count de Lille and the Duke d'Enghien are always egging their conspirators upon me; they appear to have no other aim than to get rid of me, and are unwearied with their daggers, infernal machines, and counter-plots. But their own persons, and those of their highest helpers, always remain beyond reach. They arrange their plans always at a safe distance, and risk nothing by this; for, if we take some of their subordinate tools and punish them, they make an outcry about barbarity and cruelty, and appeal to their sacred right of using all means to regain their inheritance, and reestablish the throne in France. They do not deny that they would have no conscientious scruples about shedding my blood. Now, why should I have any about shedding theirs? Blood for blood, that is the natural and unavoidable law of retaliation, and woe to him who lays claim to it! These Bourbons do so. I have never injured one of them personally; a great nation has placed me at its head; my blood is worth as much as theirs, and it is time at last that I make it al pari with theirs. I will no longer serve as a target for all murderers, and then afterward only find the dagger, instead of seizing the hands that ply it. Let me once have hold of the hands, and all the daggers will disappear forever!"
"I will give these hands into your power, or, at least, some fingers of them."
"I want them all," cried Bonaparte, eagerly,—"all the fingers, all the hands. You have spoken of three different conspiracies. I want the leaders of them, and then all others may run. If the hydra loses its three heads, it must at last die. So give me the three heads, that of the republicans and of the two royalist parties. The head of conspiracy number two I know; it is the Count de Lille. He is the sly spider who always withdraws behind his nets, but I know the hand, too, that is set in motion by this head; it is the Duke d'Enghien. He is an untiring conspirator, wholly occupied with infernal machines and daggers for me. Ah! let him take care of himself, the little Duke d'Enghien. If I take him, I will exercise the right of retaliation upon him, for I am determined to have peace. "We now come to your conspiracy number three, to your Deus ex machina, the so-called Louis XVII. This Deus really exists?"
"Yes, general, he exists."
Bonaparte laughed aloud, but his laughter sounded like a threat. "I have heard of this story," he said. "The good-natured Kleber believed it, and, after his death, a paper was given to me, written by him, and directed to me, which stated that his so-called nephew Louis was the heir of the King of France, and implored me earnestly to take the orphan of the Temple under my protection. I instituted inquiries for him at once; it was after the battle of Marengo, and this Monsieur Louis was, till then, adjutant of General Desaix."
"Yes, general, adjutant of Desaix, down to the battle of Marengo— that is, to the death of Desaix."
"If I mistake not, his adjutant was wounded in the battle, and lay at the hospital in Alessandria."
"It is so, general. I wonder how closely you have been informed respecting the fortunes of this young man."
"From that time all trace of him has been lost, and all my inquiries have proved in vain. The adjutant of Desaix, who fought so bravely, and who bore my dying comrade in his arms, deserved advancement, and I wanted to give it to him, and therefore searched for him, but in vain. I believed him dead, and now you come and tell me about a conspiracy in favor of Louis XVII. This young pretender is still alive, then, and there are childlike souls who believe his story, are there?"
"General, he says little, for he is very silent and reticent, but he has testimonials which speak for him, and which show that his story is not an idle tale, but a fragment of history. His papers give clear and undeniable evidence cf his lineage and the course of his life."
"I should like to see these papers once," said the consul.
"He never lets them go out of his hands, for he knows very well that they are his security for a crown."
"Then bring me the man himself, and then I shall have him and his papers," said Bonaparte, with a growl like a lion's. "Is not he the head of the conspiracy?"
"Yes, general, the head of a conspiracy which I have conducted, because I meant to have all the threads in my hands, if I was to see clearly. In order to prove the royalists, I threw them this bait, and many of them have taken the hook and come over to the young king. In this way I have made a division in the ranks of the royalists, and the Count de Lille already sees the consequences. The so-called orphan of the Temple has at this hour no enemy who hates him more than the Count de Lille."
"But this enmity of the Count de Lille vanishes like a glow-worm in the darkness. I want tangible proofs by which I can arrest my enemies. Can you give them to me?"
"General, it will not be difficult to do this. We will speak of it hereafter. Allow me first a word about this dangerous adjutant of Desaix, Colonel Louis. You said, general, that you made futile efforts to gain information about this interesting and brave young man. Those efforts were made in the years when M. Regnier d'Angely was chief of police, in which my enemies succeeded in withdrawing the confidence of the First Consul from me. But had I been chief of police at that time, I should have been able to tell you that the young man whom you were seeking, and respecting whom you obtained no information, was living here in Paris."
"What!" cried Bonaparte, in amazement. "This so-called Louis XVII. in Paris, then?" "General, he is still here; he has been living in Paris for about four years—about as long as M. Regnier has been head of police."
"And Regnier has told me nothing about it! Has he not known that so dangerous a person was living in Paris?"
Fouche shrugged his shoulders. "Monsieur Regnier—who doubts the existence of secret societies in France, and tells you that the assassins who have so often of late imperilled your life have all been sent hither from foreign parts by the pretenders to the crown, and that there are no conspirators in France—Monsieur Regnier could not of course know the head of this secret society. He left them to follow their own pleasures unhindered here in Paris. But I know them, and I give you my word of honor, general, that the so-called nephew of Kleber is living here in Paris. Directly after his arrival he came to me, and I handed to him the papers and documents which Desaix intrusted to me, and which I had solemnly sworn to deliver to his adjutant Louis. The young man gave me his confidence, and when I spoke to him regretfully and with enthusiasm about his father and his mother, and addressed him as 'his majesty,' I won his love. He opened his heart to me, confessed that he was Louis XVII., and asked my counsel and help. I promised him both, and showed myself to him in a very compliant and devoted mood. My first counsel was, that he should live incognito under a borrowed name. In order that this might be possible, I gave him the name for his incognito, and had all the necessary documents prepared, the certificate of his birth, baptism, the marriage of his parents, and the will of his relatives."
"And all these documents were false and forged?" said Bonaparte, in amazement.
"There are everywhere pliable public officials in France," replied Fouche, with a smile. "I did not content myself with procuring for my protege the papers which insured him an honorable name, respectable family position, and a life without care; I did much more for him. I followed the efforts already related with others. I had a certificate of the death of M. Louis prepared, so as to give him a passport out of life. In order to protect himself from every injury, I told him that he, as the adjutant of Desaix, must pass as dead. He approved of it, and I took the pains to procure from the hospital at Alessandria a duly signed and sealed certificate that Colonel Louis, the adjutant of General Desaix, died of his wounds there."
"Good God!" cried Bonaparte, "is every thing in life to be bought and sold thus?"
"Yes, general, every thing—loyalty and love, life and death. I have caused the son of the King of France to die, and then rise again— and all with gold. But, when the certificate arrived, a change had occurred in my relations. I had been removed from office, and Regnier was my successor. I kept the certificate in my possession; but, in order to secure my protege against what might befall me in case of my death, I wrote to him that I had received the papers, and that he would live without danger in Paris, under his assumed name. This letter I signed with my whole name, and set my seal to it, that in case of need it might be of service to him."
"Fouche, you are a sly fox," said Bonaparte, with a laugh. "It is easier to get out of the way of a cannonball than out of your snares. One might say to you, in the words of the King of Prussia, 'God defend mo from my friends, from my enemies I can defend myself!' According to this you have caused Colonel Louis to die for friendship's sake, and rise again under another name."
"Yes, general, that is it! Colonel Louis—that is, the rightful king, Louis XVII.—is a tool in my hands, which I hold as a check to all parties, and which I can hold up or withdraw according as it pleases me. At present my game is not merely to bring disunion and hatred into the ranks of the royalists, but to bring over many republicans who have a soft heart, to be zealous partisans of the young and unfortunate king."
"And afterward," said Bonaparte, with a sterner tone, "you might make use of this instrument to intimidate that fourth party of which you spoke before—the Bonapartists. But you have been mistaken, Fouche; this reckoning does not do—your cunning has overreached itself. You do not terrify me; and if it could really happen that the French nation should offer me an imperial crown, at the same time that I should accept it, I should put my foot on the neck of all rebels and pretenders. With a single tread I would crush them all. I want no parties, no political factions; I want to bring all these risings and agitations to silence. There shall be no secret societies in France; and against each and every conspirator, whatever his rank may be, I will bring from this time forth the whole weight of the law. Mark this, Fouche! I mean to make an end of all parties, and only when you shall give their chiefs into my hand- -not for my personal vengeance, for I cherish no vengeance against those cowardly worms of conspirators, but for the righteous punishment and retaliatory laws of France—only when you are able, by one grand coup, and one well-founded charge, to destroy all conspiracies, and bring all secret coalitions to the light, only then shall you become chief of police—only then will the future emperor give you the title of duke."
"General, I build on your word, and I am sure of becoming chief of police and duke. We will put an end to all conspiracies."
"And to the Monsieur Louis, too," cried Bonaparte, eagerly. "It is a disagreeable and troublesome figure. So long as he lives he would live in the ermine of the imperial cloak like a troublesome insect, which always stings and pricks. One must not allow such insects to find their way into his fur, and this Monsieur Louis must be put out of the way once for all. I hope he has entered deeply enough into the conspiracy, not to come out of it again with a whole skin!"
"General, I have told you already, that day before yesterday his dependants saluted him, in a secret gathering, as their king. It is true, indeed, that the poor little fellow strongly opposed it, and obstinately refused to accept all honors, but the fact remains unchanged."
"And on the ground of this fact shall he be apprehended," cried Bonaparte, with a threatening voice.
"There must be an example made, and this Louis is a suitable person for it. He must be the bete de souffrance for all the rest. He is the head of a conspiracy; we will crush this head, and the limbs will fall of themselves. Besides the sensitive souls who love nurses' stories and believe in every thing, there will be no one who will weep for him. No one will lament his death, but he will be a warning to all. Direct yourself to this, Fouche, and set all the infernal machines of your intrigues in operation that we may put an end to conspiracy."
"General, only one thing is wanting; it is that I be at the head of the police, and have the power in my hands to make my infernal machines effectual."
"But I have told you that I will appoint you as minister only when you give me incontrovertible proofs that your conspiracies are not the fabric of your own phantasy."
"Very well, general, now that we are at one, I am prepared to give you these proofs. I have told you that the royalists and republicans have united for the purpose of taking your life. They have chosen fifty men by ballot, in foreign parts, who are to come to Paris and accomplish here the great work of your destruction. These fifty assassins have arrived in Paris, and their chief men had an interview yesterday with the chiefs of the conspiracies here."
"Fouche!" cried Bonaparte, with a threatening voice, "think well what you are saying. You are playing for the stake of your own head! If these fifty assassins are creatures of your own imagination, it is you who will have to pay for it."
"These fifty men have been in Paris since the day before yesterday," rejoined Fouche, quietly. "They came hither by different roads, and appearing like simple travellers, and yesterday they had their first interview with the chief of the republican party."
"Who is this chief? Name him, or I will call you a liar and impostor!"
"This chief," said Fouche, slowly, and measuring every word, "this chief is General Moreau."
Bonaparte uttered a low cry, an ashy paleness suffused his cheeks; he pressed his lips together, and his eyes flamed out such darts of rage that even Fouche trembled and lowered his gaze.
"Moreau," muttered Bonaparte, after a long pause, "Moreau a conspirator, a traitor! Moreau in an alliance with assassins whom the royalists are sending out against me! I knew very well that he was my enemy, but I did not think that his enmity would lead him to be a murderer!"
He walked up and down with quick steps, his hands folded behind his back, then stopped short before Fouche and looked him full in the face.
"Fouche, do you abide by your assertion, that Moreau is a conspirator?"
"I abide by it, general."
"And those fifty assassins, whom the royalists have sent, are in Paris?"
"Yes, general, they are in Paris, and Georges and Pichegru are at their head."
"Fouche," cried Bonaparte, clinching his fist and raising it threateningly, "Fouche, so sure as God lives, I will have you hanged as a traitor if you have lied!"
"General, as surely as God lives, I have spoken the truth. I came here to show you what I am, and what Regnier is. I have waited here till the whole net of these conspiracies should be spread out and be fully complete. The time has come when I must speak; and now I say to you, general, take some steps, for there is danger on foot!"
Bonaparte, trembling with emotion, had thrown himself into an arm- chair, and took, as was his custom in moments of the greatest excitement, his penknife from the writing-desk, and began to whittle on the back of the chair.
Fouche stood leaning against the wall, and looked with complete calmness and an invisible smile at this singular occupation of the general, when the door of the cabinet was opened, and the Mameluke Roustan appeared at the entrance.
"Consul," he said, softly, "Councillor Real is again here, and pressingly desires an audience."
Bonaparte rose, and threw away the knife. "Real!" he cried in a loud tone.
The man who was summoned immediately appeared at the open door—a tall, grave personage, with a face so pale and distorted that Bonaparte noticed it, despite his great agitation.
"What is it, Real?" he asked, eagerly. "Have you spoken with the condemned man?"
"Yes, general, I have spoken with him," whispered Real, with pale lips.
"And it is as I said, is it not? This Doctor Querolle has only pretended to be able to make great disclosures, only to prolong his own life a few hours. He has poisoned his wife, in order to marry his mistress, and the poisoner is executed."
"General," cried Fouche, almost with an air of joy, "I knew Querolle, and I knew that his wife poisoned herself. Querolle is not a poisoner."
"What is he then, M. Omniscience?"
"General, he is a conspirator!"
"A conspirator!" repeated Bonaparte, and now his troubled face turned again to the councillor. "Real, what do you know? What did the condemned man say to you?"
"Consul, he swore that he was innocent of the death of his wife, but he acknowledged himself a member of a conspiracy, the object of which is to murder General Bonaparte. He asserts that the royalists and republicans have allied themselves; that fifty emissaries of the Count de Lille and the Duke d'Enghien, Pichegru and Georges at their head, have crept into Paris; that they had an interview yesterday with General Moreau, and with the so-called King Louis XVII., who is secreted in Paris, and that at this hour those fifty men are prowling around the streets of the city, and are watching the Tuileries, waiting for an opportunity to kill the First Consul."
The troubled eye of Bonaparte turned slowly from the pale face of Councillor Real to the calm, sagacious face of Fouche, which guarded itself well from expressing any token of triumph and satisfaction. The consul then walked slowly through the room, and with his foot pushed open the door leading into the great reception-room, in which, at this hour every day, all the dignitaries of the republic were assembled, to receive the orders of Bonaparte.
"Murat!" cried Bonaparte, loudly; and at once the person summoned, General Murat, at that time governor of Paris, appeared at the door of the cabinet.
"Murat," said Bonaparte, in the tones in which he issued his commands on the battle-field, "give orders at once that the gates of Paris be closed, and that no stranger be allowed to go out of the city till you have further orders. You will come to me in an hour, and receive a proclamation to your soldiers, which you will sign; have it printed and posted at the street-corners of Paris. Make all these preparations! Go!"
Murat withdrew from the room with a salutation of deference, and now the commanding voice of Bonaparte summoned his chief adjutant from the reception-room.
"Duroc," said the First Consul, with calm, almost solemn voice, "you will go with twelve soldiers in pursuit of General Moreau, and arrest him wherever you find him."
The noble, open face of Duroc grew pale, and put on an expression of horror and amazement. "General," he whispered, "I beg that-"
But this time Bonaparte would not listen to the soothing words of his favorite.
"No replies!" he thundered. "You have only to obey! Nothing more!"
Duroc, pale and agitated, withdrew, and Bonaparte closed the door of the cabinet. "Real," he said, "return to the prison of the condemned man; take him his pardon, and bring him to me, that I may hear him myself. Hasten!"
Real withdrew, and Bonaparte and Fouche remained alone.
"You have given your proofs, Fouche, and now I believe you. When wolves are to be hunted down you are a good bloodhound, and we will begin the chase. I make you from this moment chief of the secret police; your first duty will be to bring this matter to an end, and help me to tear to pieces the whole murderous web, your reward being that I will nominate you again minister of police. [Footnote: The appointment of Fouche as the chief of police took place in June of the year 1804.] I will fulfil my promise so soon as you shall have made good yours, and put me in possession of the chief conspirators."
"You have just arrested Moreau, general," replied Fouche, deferentially. "I give you my word that in a few hours Pichegru and Georges will be apprehended."
"You forget the chief person," cried Bonaparte, over whose brazen forehead a thunder-cloud seemed to pass. "You forget the caricature of buried royalty, the so-called King Louis XVII. Hush! I tell you I will have this man. I will draw out the fangs of this royal adder, so that he cannot bite any more! Bring the man before me. The republic is an angry goddess, and demands a royal offering. Give this impostor into my hands, or something worse will happen! Go, and I advise you to bring me, before the sun goes down, the tidings that this fabled King Louis is arrested, or the sun of your good fortune is set forever! Now away! Go out through the little corridor, and then through the secret gate-you know the way. Go!"
Fouche did not dare to contradict the imperative order, but softly and hastily moved toward the curtain which led to the gloomy anteroom, and thence through a door, which only those initiated knew how to open, and which led to the little corridor.
But scarcely had Fouche entered this little dismal room, when a hand was laid upon his arm, and a woman's voice whispered to him:
"I must speak to you—at once! Come! this way!"
The hand drew him forward to the wall, a door sprang open without sound, and the voice whispered: "Four stairs down. Be careful!"
Fouche did not hesitate; he followed his guide down the little staircase, along the dark corridor, and up another short staircase. He had recognized the voice, and knew that his leader was no other than Josephine, the wife of the First Consul.
Through the secret door at the end of the corridor they entered a small and gloomy antechamber, exactly like the one which adjoined the cabinet of the consul, and from it Josephine ushered Fouche into her cabinet.
"You will say nothing to Bonaparte about this secret way, Fouche," said Josephine, with a gentle, supplicatory tone. "He does not know of it. I have had it made without his knowledge while he was in Boulogne last year. Will you swear to me that you will not reveal it?"
"I do swear, madame."
"God knows that I have not had it made out of curiosity to overhear Bonaparte," continued Josephine. "But it is necessary sometimes for me to know what is going on, and that when the general is angry I should hasten to him to calm him and turn aside his wrath. I have warded off many a calamity since this private way was opened, and I have been able to overhear Bonaparte. But what have I been compelled to listen to to-day! Oh, Fouche, it was God Himself who impelled me to listen! I was with him when you were announced, and I suspected that your visit purported something unusual, something dreadful. I have heard all, Fouche—all, I tell you! I know that his life is threatened, that fifty daggers are directed toward him. 0 God! this perpetual fear and excitement will kill me! I have no peace of mind, no rest more! Since the unhappy day when we left our dear little house to live in the Tuileries, since that day there has been an end to all joy! Why did we do it? why did we not remain in our little Luxembourg? why have we been persuaded to live in the palace of the kings?"
"It is proper for the greatest man in France to live in the house where the departed race of kings once had their home," replied Fouche.
"Oh, yes," sighed Josephine. "I know these tricks of speech, with which you have turned the head of my poor Bonaparte. Oh! you, you, his flatterer, you who urged him on, will bear the blame if misfortune breaks in upon us! You have intoxicated him with the incense of adulation; you pour into his veins daily and hourly the sweet poison which is to destroy our happiness and our peace! He was so good, so cheerful, so happy, my Bonaparte! He was contented with the laurels which victory laid upon his brow, but you continued to whisper in his ear that a crown would add new grace to his laurels. You flattered his ambition; and what was quietly sleeping at the bottom of his heart, and what I hushed with my kisses and with my hand, that you took all efforts to bring out into the light: his vanity—his love of power! Oh, Fouche! you are wicked, cruel, and pitiless! I hate, I abhor you all, for you are the murderers of my Bonaparte!"
She spoke all this softly, with quick breath, while the tears were streaming over her beautiful face, and her whole frame trembled with emotion. She then sank, wholly overcome, upon a lounge, and pressed her small hands, sparkling with jewels, over her eyes.
"Madame, you are unjust," replied Fouche, softly. "If you have overheard my conversation with the First Consul, you are aware that the direct object of my coming was to save him from murderers, and to insure his precious life."
"And, moreover, to pour into his ear the poison of a future imperial crown!" said Josephine, indignantly. "Oh, I know it! With talk of conspiracies and of daggers you urged him on. You want him to be an emperor, that you may be a prince or duke! I see it all, and I cannot prevent it, for he no longer listens to me, he no longer heeds the voice of his Josephine, only that of his ambitious flatterers, and he will put on the imperial crown and complete our misfortune! Oh! I knew it! This imperial crown will ruin us. It was prophesied to me in my youth that I should be an empress, but it was added that it would be for no long time. And yet I should like to live, and I should like to be happy still!"
"You will be so, madame," said Fouche, with a smile. "It is always good fortune to wear an imperial crown, and your beautiful head is worthy to bear one."
"No, no," she cried, angrily. "Do not try me with your flatteries! I am contented with being a beloved and happy wife; I desire no crown. The crowned heads that have dwelt in the Tuileries have become the prey of destruction, and the pearls of their diadems have been changed to tears! But what advantage is it that I should say all this to you? It is all in vain, in vain! I did not bring you to talk of this. It was something entirely different. Listen, Fouche, I cannot prevent Bonaparte's becoming an emperor, but you shall not make him a regicide! I will not suffer it! By Heaven, and all the holy angels, I will not suffer it!"
"I do not understand you, madame. I do not know what you mean."
"Oh, you understand me very well, Fouche. You know that I am speaking of King Louis XVII."
"Ah, madame, you are speaking of the impostor, who gives himself out to be the 'orphan of the Temple.' "
"He is it, Fouche. I know it, I am acquainted with the history of his flight. I was a prisoner in the Conciergerie at the same time with Toulan, the queen's loyal servant. He knew my devotion to the unhappy Marie Antoinette; he intrusted to me his secret of the dauphin's escape. Later, when I was released, Tallien and Barras confirmed the story of his flight, and informed me that he was secreted by the Prince de Conde. I have known it all, and I tell you I knew who Kleber's adjutant was; I inquired for him after he disappeared at the battle of Marengo, and when my agents told me that the young king died there, I wore mourning and prayed for him.
And, now that I learn that the son of my beautiful queen is still alive, shall I suffer him to die like a traitor? No, never! Fouche, I tell you I will never suffer it; I will not have this unfortunate young man sacrificed! You must save him—I will have it so!"
"I!" cried Fouche, in amazement. "But you know that it is impossible, for you have heard my conversation with the consul. He himself said, 'The republic demands a royal victim. If it is not this so-called King Louis, let it be the Duke d'Enghien, for a victim must fall, in order to intimidate the royalists, and bring peace at last."
"But I will not have you bring human victims," cried Josephine; "the republic shall no longer be a cruel Moloch, as it was in the days of the guillotine. You shall, and you must, save the son of Queen Marie Antoinette. I desire to have peace in my conscience, that I may live without reproach, and be happier perhaps than now."
"But it is impossible," insisted Fouche. "You have heard yourself that if, before the sun goes down, Louis be not imprisoned, the sun of my good fortune will have set."
"And I told you, Fouche, that if you do this—if you become a regicide a second time—I will be your unappeasable enemy your whole life long; I will undertake to avenge on you the death of the queen and her son; I will follow your every step with my hate, and will not rest till I have overthrown you. And you know well that Bonaparte loves me, that I have influence with him, and that what I mean to do, I accomplish at last by prayers, tears, and frowns. So do not exasperate me, Fouche; do not make me your irreconcilable enemy. Save the son of the king whom you killed, conciliate the shades of his unhappy parents. Fouche, we are in the cabinet of the queen! Here she often tarried, here she often pressed her son to her heart, and asked God's blessing on him. Fouche, the spirit of Marie Antoinette is with us, and she will know it if you in pity spare the life of her son. Marie Antoinette will accuse you at the throne of God, and plead with God to show you no compassion, if you refuse to be merciful to her son. Fouche, in the name of the queen—on my knees—I implore you, save her son!"
And Josephine, her face bathed in tears, sank before him and raised her folded hands suppliantly to Fouche. The minister, deeply moved, pale with the recollections which Josephine awakened within him, stooped down to her, and bade her arise; and when she refused, and begged and threatened, and wept, his obstinacy was at last touched, or perhaps his prudence, which counselled him to make a friend, rather than an enemy, out of the all-powerful wife of the future emperor.
"Rise, madame," he said. "What mortal is able to resist your requests, since Bonaparte himself cannot? I will save your protege, whatever shall come to me afterward from it."
She sprang up, and in the wildness of her joy threw her beautiful arms around Fouche's neck, and kissed him.
"Fouche," she said, "I give you this kiss in the name of Queen Marie Antoinette. It is a kiss of forgiveness, and of blessing. You swear to me that you will save him?"
"I swear it, madame!"
"And I swear to you that as soon as he is saved, and Bonaparte's anger can no longer reach him, I will confess all to my husband, and put it in such a Light that Bonaparte shall thank and reward you. Now tell me, how you will save him."
"I shall only be able if you will help me, madame."
"I am ready for any thing—that you know well. Tell me what I shall do."
"You must yourself direct a few lines to the young man, conjuring him in the name of his mother to fly, to save himself from the anger of the First Consul—to leave Europe."
"Oh! Fouche, how sly you are!" said Josephine, sadly.
"You want my handwriting, in order to justify yourself to the First Consul in case of emergency, very good. I will write the billet."
She hastened to her table, dashed a few words upon paper, and then passed the note to Fouche. "Read it," she said; "it contains all that is necessary, does it not?"
"Yes, madame; and you have written in such beautiful and moving words, that the young man will be melted, and will obey you. Will you now have the goodness to put the note in an envelope and to address it?"
She folded it, and put it into an envelope. "To whom shall I address it?" she then asked.
"Address it to King Louis XVII."
She did so with a quick stroke of the pen and handed the letter to Fouche. "Take it," she said, "it is your justification. And in order that you may be entirely secure," she continued, with a slight smile, "retain this letter yourself. What I would say to this young man I would rather communicate by word of mouth."
"How," cried Fouche, " you want—"
"To see and speak with the king," she said, sorrowfully, "to beg his forgiveness for myself and Bonaparte. Hush! do not oppose me, I am resolved upon it. I want to see the young man."
"But he cannot come here, madame—here, into the very den of the lion."
"No, not here, into the desecrated palace of the kings," she answered, bitterly. "No, he cannot come here—I shall go to him."
"You are jesting, madame, it is impossible. You, the wife of the First Consul, you will—"
"I want to fulfil a duty of gratitude and of loyalty, Fouche. In my heart I still feel myself the subject of the queen. Let me follow the call of my heart! Listen! My carriage stands ready. I was intending to drive to my friend Madame Tallien. I will take a pleasure-drive instead. In the Bois de Boulogne I will cause the carriage to stop, send it away, and return on foot. You will await in there with a fiacre and take me to the king."
"It shall be so," said Fouche. "Your will shall be my law. I only ask that you hasten, for you know well that I have much to do to- day. I shall take advantage of the time to procure for the young man the necessary passports for travel. But, madame, you must help him leave the city. For you know that the gates are all closed."
"I will tell Bonaparte that I am troubled to be in the city, now that it is so shut in. I will drive out to St. Cloud. His carriage can follow mine, and if the gate-keeper puts hinderances in the way, I will command him to let Louis pass. Now let us hasten!"
An hour later Josephine, after dismissing her equipage with the servants, entered the fiacre which was waiting for her near the fountain. Fouche received her there, and was unwearied in his complaints of the poor carriage which the wife of the First Consul must use.
Josephine smiled, "My dear sir," she said, "there have been times when I should have been very proud and very happy to have had such a fiacre as this, and not to have been compelled to walk through the muddy streets of Paris. Let it be as it is! The present days of superfluity have not made me proud, and I have a vivid recollection of the past. But tell me, Fouche, whither are we driving, and where does the young king live?"
"We are driving, if you graciously approve of it, to my house, and I have brought the young man there, for in his own house he is no longer safe. I have had it surrounded by agents of the secret police, with orders to arrest him on his return. He will, of course, not return, and it will be easier to assume the appearance that he received an intimation of his peril and escaped in season. But here we are before my door, and if you will draw the thick veil which happily you have fastened to your bonnet, carefully before your face, I hope that no one will see that the most beautiful lady in Paris honors my house with her distinguished presence."
Josephine made no reply to this flattery, but drew the black lace veil closely over her face, and hastened to leave the fiacre, and entered the house.
"Fouche," she whispered, as she ascended the staircase, "my heart beats as violently as it did when I drove to the Tuileries to be presented to Marie Antoinette. It was the first time that I spoke with the Queen of France."
"And now, madame," said Fouche, with a smile, "you will speak with the last King of France."
"Does he know who I am?"
"No, madame; I have left it to you to inform him. Here we are at the saloon—he is within!"
"Wait only a moment, Fouche. I must collect myself. My heart beats dreadfully. Now, now you may open the door!"
They entered the little saloon. Josephine stood still near the door, and while she hastily removed her bonnet and the thick veil and handed them to Fouche, her large, brilliant, brown eyes were turned to the young man who stood in the window-niche, his hands calmly folded over his breast. In this attitude, with the calm look of his face, the gentle glance of his blue eyes, he bore so close a resemblance to the pictures which represented Louis XVI. in his youth, that Josephine could not repress a cry of surprise, and hastened forward to the young man, who now advanced out of the window recess. "Madame," he said, bowing low before this beautiful and dignified lady whom he did not know, but whose sympathizing face made his heart tremble—"madame, doubtless you are the lady whom M. Fouche said I might expect to meet here."
"Yes, I am she," replied Josephine, with a voice trembling with emotion, her eyes, flooded with tears, all the while being fixed on the grave, youthful face which brought back so many memories of the past. "I have come to see you and to bring you the greetings of a man whom you loved, who revered you, and who died blessing you."
"Of whom do you speak?" asked Louis, turning pale.
"Men called him Toulan," whispered Josephine. "Queen Marie Antoinette termed him Fidele."
"Fidele!" cried Louis, in a tone of anguish. "Fidele is dead!—my deliverer, he whose fidelity and bravery released me from my dreadful prison. Oh, madame, what sad thoughts do you bring back with his name!"
Josephine turned with a triumphant look to Fouche, who was still standing behind her in the neighborhood of the door. Her look said, "You see he is no traitor, he has stood the proof."
Fouche understood the language of this look perfectly, and a smile played over his features. Then Josephine turned again to the young man.
"You did not know that Toulan was dead?" she asked, softly.
"How could I know it?" he cried, bitterly. "I was taken at that time to a solitary castle, where I remained several years, and then I went to Germany, and from that time I have always lived in foreign parts. Since I have been in Paris I have made the effort to learn something about him, but no one could inform me, and so I solaced myself with the hope that he had really gone to America, for that was his object, as the other gentleman who assisted me in my release informed me at that time."
"This other gentleman," said Josephine, softly, "was the Baron de Jarjayes, and the child who was carried into the Temple was the—"
"The son of the Count de Frotte," rejoined Louis.
"Fouche, it is he!" cried Josephine. "It is the son of my noble, unfortunate Queen Marie Antoinette.—Oh, sire, let me testify my homage to you, as becomes a subject when she stands before her king. Sire, I bow my knee before you, and I would gladly pour out my whole life in tears, and with each of these tears beg your forgiveness for France, for us all."
And the beautiful, passionate creole sank upon her knee, and raised her tearful eyes to the young man who, perplexed and blushing, gazed at her, then hastily stooped to her and conjured her to rise.
"Not, sire," she cried, "until you tell me that you have forgiven me—that you have forgiven us all."
"I forgive you? What have I to forgive in you? Monsieur Fouche, who is this lady who knows me and my destinies, and who brings me greetings from Fidele? What have I to forgive in her? Who is she? Tell me her name?"
"Monsieur," said Fouche, slowly approaching, "this lady is—"
"Hush! Fouche, I will tell him myself," interrupted Josephine. "Sire, when your beautiful, exalted mother was still living in Versailles, I had the honor to be presented to her, both at the grand receptions and at the minor ones. One day—it was already in the unhappy Reign of Terror—when the queen had left Versailles and Trianon, and was already living in the Tuileries, I went thither to pay my respects."
"That is to say, madame," cried Louis, "you were a brave and loyal woman, for only the brave and the loyal ventured then to go to the Tuileries. Oh, speak on! speak on! You wanted to pay your respects to the queen, you were saying; she received you, did she not? You were taken into the little saffron saloon?"
"No, sire, the queen was not there, she was in the little music- hall; and, because at that time etiquette was no longer rigidly enforced, I was allowed to accompany the Marchioness de Tourzel into the music-room. The queen did not notice our entrance, for she was singing. I remained standing at the door, and contemplated the wondrous picture that I saw there. The queen, in a simple white dress, her light brown, slightly powdered hair concealed by a black lace head-dress, sat at the spinet on which her white hands rested. Near her in the window-niche sat madame, engaged with her embroidery. Very near her sat, in a little arm-chair, a boy of five years, a lovely child, with long golden locks, with large blue eyes, and looking like an angel. The little hands, surrounded by lace wristbands, leaned on the support of the chair, while his looks rested incessantly upon the countenance of the queen, and his whole child's soul was absorbed in the gaze which he directed to his mother. The queen was singing, and the tones of her soulful voice resound still in my heart. The song was this:
'Dors, mon enfant, clos ta paupiere, Tes cris me dechirent le coeur: Dors, mon enfant, ta pauvre mere A bien assez de sa douleur.'
And while she sang she turned her head toward her son, who listened to her motionless and as if enchanted. 'See,' cried madame, the sister of the pretty boy, 'I believe Louis Charles has fallen asleep.' The child started up, and a glowing redness suffused his cheeks. 'Oh! Theresa,' he cried, 'how could any one go to sleep when my mamma queen was singing'?' His mother stooped down to him, pressed a long kiss upon his brow, and a tear fell from her eyes upon his golden hair. I saw it, and involuntarily my eyes filled; I could not hold back my tears, aud went softly out to compose myself. Sire, I see you still before me—this beautiful queen and her children—and it is with me to-day as then, I must weep."
"And I!—oh, my God!—and I!" whispered Louis, putting both his hands before his quivering face. Even Fouche seemed moved, his lips trembled and his cheeks grew pale.
A long pause ensued. Nothing was heard but the convulsive sobbing of the young man, who still held his hands before his face, and wept so violently that the tears poured down in heavy drops between his fingers.
"Sire," cried Josephine, with supplicatory voice—" sire, by the recollection of that hour, I conjure you, forgive me that I now live in those rooms which Marie Antoinette once inhabited. Ah! it has not been my wish, and I have done it only with pain and grief. Believe me, sire, and forgive me that I have been compelled to live in the palace of the kings."
He took his hands from his face, and gazed at her.
"You live in the Tuileries? Who are you? Madame, who are you?"
"Sire, I was formerly Viscountess Beauharnais; now I am—"
"The wife of the First Consul!" exclaimed the prince, drawing back in terror—" the wife of him who is pursuing me, and who, as Fouche says, means to bring me to the scaffold."
"Oh, sire, forgive him!" implored Josephine; "he is not wicked, he is not cruel; but circumstances compel him to act as he does. God Himself, it would seem, has chosen him to restore, with his heroic sword and his heroic spirit, peace and prosperity to this unfortunate land, bleeding from a thousand wounds. He was the savior of France, and the grateful nation hailed him with paeans, and full of confidence laid the reins of government in his hands. Through his victories and his administration of affairs, France has again grown strong and great and happy; and yet he is daily threatened by assassins, yet there are continual conspiracies whose aim is to murder the man to whom France is indebted for its new birth. What wonder that he at last, to put an end to these conspiracies, and these attempts upon his life, will, by a deed of horror, inspire the conspirators with fear? He is firmly resolved on this. The lion has been aroused from his calmness by new conspiracies, and the shaking of his mane will this time annihilate all who venture to conspire against him. Sire, I do not accuse you; I do not say that you do wrongly to make every attempt to regain the inheritance of your fathers. May God judge between you and your enemies! But your enemies have the power in their hands, and you must yield to that power. Oh, my dear, unfortunate, pitiable lord, I conjure you, save yourself from the anger of the First Consul, and from the pursuers who have been sent out to seek you. If you are found, you are lost, and no one in the world will then be able to save you. Fly, therefore—fly, while there is still time!"
"Fly!" cried the young prince, bitterly, "evermore fly! My whole life is a perpetual flight, a continuous concealment. Like the Wandering Jew, I must journey from land to land—nowhere can I rest, nowhere find peace. Without a home, without parents, without a name, I wander around, and, like a hunted wild beast, I must continually start afresh, for the hounds are close behind me. Well, be it so, then; I am weary of defying my fate longer; I surrender myself to what is inevitable. The First Consul may send me as a conspirator to the scaffold. I am prepared to die. I shall find that peace in death at least that life so cruelly denies me. I will not fly—I will remain. The example of my parents will teach me how to die."
"Oh, speak not so!" exclaimed Josephine. "Have pity on me, have pity on yourself. You are still so young, life has so much for you yet, there remains so much to you yet to hope for. You must live, not to avenge the death of your illustrious parents, but to make its memory less poignant. Son of kings, you have received life from God, and from your parents, you may not lightly throw it away, but must defend it, for the blessing of your mother rests upon your head, which you must save from the scaffold."